Participants: Andrew Thorson, Ali Woller, Sandeep Siwach, Katie Bowron, Kate Wootton, Simon Litchwark, Chris Sillars
Author: Kate Wootton
There were only three of us interested in an overnight trip at the Wednesday meeting, and the weather was terrible. We tossed around a few ideas, kind of settled on Three Creeks Hut, and then went home and got an email from Alex saying he had a group project to work on and couldn’t come after all. Down to two. I considered bailing too, but knew Andrew wanted to make the most of every remaining weekend in NZ, and having been in that situation myself, I didn’t want to let him down!
But then things started looking up again. Chris decided to join us since he’d (wisely) decided to postpone his planned trip to Mt. Aspiring due to the weather. Andrew’s friend Ali was also interested. I looked at the trip again and decided that just walking into Three Creeks looked boring, but it was very near to Woolshed Creek Hut. Maybe we could head over Peache Saddle and join the two. The others agreed. At uni Katie started asking me about the trip and decided she’d join us too. Sweet! 5, decent (if squished) carload. Then Sandeep put out a plea on facebook for a weekend trip. Hm… 6, and only one car. Somewhat more difficult. Thankfully Simon and his red van with the dodgy clutch came to the rescue! Now we were 7.
Packing on Friday night, my flatmate asked whether we needed permission from the farmer to head into Three Creeks Hut. Ummmmmm….. no? I hope not?! I talked to him some more and it turned out Nick had been running around there and found a bit “no trespassing” sign on the track! I talked to him some more and we decided that we were going to a slightly different area so it must be OK. Fingers crossed….
Next morning, after a coffee stop in Darfield and a car shuffle at the trail end, we finally began! And no “no trespassing” sign as of yet! We wandered down the 4WD track, enjoying the lack of predicted miserable weather. And just when I thought we were well past the possibility of finding said sign, we found it. So we decided that, remarkably, everyone in the group had suddenly forgotten how to read, and that since there was a stile right next to the gate that it must be OK to pass. A little further down the track when we came across a “concealed camera operating” sign on another gate, we still hadn’t regained the ability to read. Having said that, it did feel like we were just wandering through someone’s farm – every farm animal in the vicinity converged on the track in front of us when they saw us, and very quickly we were driving such a herd of cows and sheep before us that any hope of escaping unnoticed was rapidly disappearing!
We found a nice lunch spot and gave the animals a chance to disperse. Then since the weather continued to be so lovely, and so we didn’t drive every animal on the farm to the hut to join us for the night, we decided we may as well head up Mt Winterslow, then drop over to Woolshed Creek from the top. It was pretty neat terrain to begin with – rocky outcrops which were easy but entertaining to scramble over – and Chris and Andrew showed off how manly they were by breaking rocks (or something) while waiting for us mere humans to catch up.
After an hour or so however, the sun decided we’d had enough lucky weather and let the clouds roll in. Visibility dropped to nothing and it began to drizzle. Not to be daunted, we put on waterproofs and pushed on. A little later however we realised that we were going to end up reaching the hut in the dark at the rate we were going, and I didn’t particularly relish the idea of attempting to navigate from the top of Mt Winterslow in fog and dark. So with a bit of sweet talking I managed to convince the crazies in the group that it would be far nicer to stay at Three Creeks Hut and have it (hopefully) to ourselves, rather than sharing a big popular hut like Woolshed. Once they established that they could still run up Mt Winterslow while the rest of us turned around, and thereby satisfy their need for a peak, they decided they could deal with the change in plans! So while Simon, Andrew and Chris disappeared upwards into the clag, the rest of us descended below the unpleasantness and had a lovely walk to the hut.
The decision to stay at Three Creeks was definitely a good one. It’s a beautiful little hut and has been recently refurbished so there were plenty of good bunks (I was glad to see that, I wasn’t entirely sure how many beds it was meant to have!). We cooked some tea, lit a fire and were beginning to feel lovely and dry by the time the three soaking boys arrived. I think they appreciated the warmth.
And then dinner! It was one of those trips where everyone had brought enough for three. What a shame. Chris even cooked us bacon on the fire, and everyone’s clothes smelled like bacon for the entire next day.
Sunday, and the mission to Peache Pass! It began easily enough, following the river, and getting some pretty wet boots. We even managed to pick the right ridge to follow up to the saddle (mostly, there was some interesting matagouri-bashing and almost-sliding-down-the-cliff going on, but we survived). Someone started a snowball fight when we reached the snow and then we eventually made it to the pass. We could see the hut in the distance and knew we’d done the hard bit – now all we had to do was follow that ridge down and we’d be there! Sweet!
We paused briefly for a group photo then began the sidle along the hillside to get to the ridge we wanted. Sidling… never worth it. Although some appear to be quicker than others, and we quickly spread out. While we were concentrating on getting through this section, the fog rolled back in again, and visibility was down to a few meters. The speedsters were gone, but by the time the rest of us had negotiated the sidle we needed some lunch and decided we’d better just leave them to it. We had a good feed, worked out where we were as well as we could with no visibility and hoped Chris and Andrew hadn’t gone too far. Luckily there was a bit of snow and we could find the occasional footstep to indicate their route. Except that when we reached the knob where we thought we would find the ridge to follow, there was no sign of a ridge and their footsteps continued on straight ahead (not the right direction). It was probably at least an hour by this point since we’d seen them and we had no idea how far they’d gone. Luckily I had a whistle – one of those pieces of equipment I always know I should take but never actually use – and luckily they were close enough to hear it! After another quarter hour or so of whistles, shouts and animal noises, we managed to convey to them that they’d gone the wrong way and should come back.
Only problem was that by this time we’d moved from the knob where we knew where we were and now we weren’t sure where the ridge was meant to be. There was a great deal of staring confusedly at the map, then at the compass, then into the mist, then back to the map. Katie thought she could see a ridge, but for the life of me I couldn’t see anything but mist. I headed down a ways to check it out, and sure enough there seemed to be a ridge, but we weren’t convinced it was the right one. Finally with a great deal of discussion with Katie and Simon and more looking at map, compass and fog, we found what we hoped to be the right ridge and decided to go for it. I checked the map compulsively for the next hour as we made our way along the ridge, determining that it was indeed the right one, and then making sure on occasion when we hit a fork in the ridge line that we took the right one. Apologies however to Sandeep and Ali for telling them we were half way there when we were less than a quarter of the way!
Eventually we made it below the mist and could see the hut. Was that a sight for sore eyes! It was however about 2pm by this point and we were meant to be heading out via Pinnacles Hut to go get the car (another 6hrs or so). So we quickly decided it was time for the boys to earn their keep and burn some energy. We gave them the car keys and they disappeared down that trail while the rest of us mosied on to the hut.
Knowing that it was going to take them much longer to get out than us (heading out via the Miners Track), we cooked up some more tea, had a leisurely second lunch, checked out the water caves and finally started gently down the track about two hours later. As we were walking out we discussed how funny it would be if the others beat us out. They did. When we arrived at the car park they’d been waiting for us for an hour. You’ll have to read their side of the story, but apparently they managed to race out in 2.5hrs, do the car shuffle and still make it to the car park with an hour to spare. Then, drenched in sweat and rain, they sat in my car with the heater on, stinking it up! Yeesh. The entire drive home my legs were sticking to the seat! I suppose I shouldn’t really complain though…. Thanks for picking it up guys, and thanks Chris for not crashing it 🙂 We stopped for food at the pub in Rakaia, and discovered that time had changed and it was an hour later than we thought it was, so we were really late home.
All in all, a great tramp with great people, a good chance to use my whistle and a good chance to practice navigation!